Chicago baseball: White Sox look like instant contenders


By Frank Gogola

The Chicago White Sox had themselves an out-of-the-blue renaissance over the offseason that sparked the fan base and put the team into the national eye.

The White Sox’s offseason moves combined with a good core of returning players puts them on the fast track to a potential playoff return for the first time since 2008.

Chicago is coming off a season in which it finished 73-89 and fourth in the American League Central. Gone is Paul Konerko, the iconic team captain, but replacing him at first base is Adam LaRoche, a proven veteran and leader in the locker room.

This year’s revamped roster affords fourth-year manager Robin Ventura with more talent and depth than in the past. Chicago’s arrow is pointing up, but how far up the ladder of success it climbs is dependent upon improved pitching and fielding.

Key returning players

Starting pitcher Chris Sale, aka “The Condor,” suffered an avulsion fracture on his right foot in late February, but he’ll anchor Chicago’s starting rotation when he returns, which is projected to be April 12. Sale is coming off his best major league season, when he finished third in Cy Young voting as he went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA, 0.966 WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.3.

First baseman Jose Abreu absolutely exploded onto the scene in his first major league season out of Cuba in 2014, finishing fourth in MVP voting. He’ll be one of the most feared hitters in the majors and will look to build upon his 36 home runs, 107 RBIs and slash line of .317/.383/.581.

Center fielder Adam Eaton proved to be the leadoff hitter and defensive outfielder the White Sox needed when they acquired him via trade prior to 2014. Eaton was a strong table setter, getting on base at a clip of .362, the second-highest among qualified hitters on the team.

Key additions

Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, aka “Shark,” will make a strong 1-2 punch along with Sale, the team’s ace, at the top of Chicago’s pitching rotation. The right-handed Samardzija, who will be a free agent at season’s end, will complement the left-handed Sale and provide Ventura with added confidence in his pitching staff.

Closer David Robertson brings a much-needed punch to a Chicago bullpen that was swinging and missing last season. The White Sox may have very well overpaid for Robertson with a four-year, $46 million contract, but it may be worth it if he nears or surpasses his 39 saves he recorded with the New York Yankees in 2014.

Left fielder Melky Cabrera will be the solid No. 2 hitter in the batting order that the White Sox have lacked the past several seasons. Cabrera, while not a Gold Glove-level talent, will also be a defensive upgrade over the recently departed Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza.

Top minor league prospects

Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, has shown flashes of greatness during spring training, going 2-0 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.245 WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.2 in five spring training starts. Rodon, Chicago’s top pitching prospect, was reassigned to the minors on April 1, but he will likely be back at the major league level midway through 2015.

Matt Davidson brought much hope to the third base position when he was acquired prior to the 2014 season, but his poor play — .199/.283/.362 — in Triple-A brought his projections back down to earth. Davidson posted a slash line of .143/.200/.214 in 15 spring training plate appearances before being optioned to the minors on March 18. Simply put, there’s still room for improvement before a major league call-up is in order.

Biggest question mark

Chicago’s bullpen is much improved on paper with the additions of relievers Zach Duke and Robertson. But, with 21 blown saves last season — the third-most in the AL — the new-look bullpen will need to prove itself on the diamond early and consistently. Beyond Duke and Robertson, the bullpen is flimsy and may be a source irritation and disgust if it costs the team close to 20 victories again.


The White Sox finish second in the AL Central at 86-76, nabbing one of the two wild card spots in the process. They win their wild card play-in game but fail to advance much further in the postseason against top-caliber competition.

Best case scenario

The White Sox celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their 2005 World Series victory with another world championship.

Right fielder Avisail Garcia plays injury-free baseball throughout the season, and Micah Johnson and Tyler Flowers lock down the second base and catcher positions, respectively. Rodon makes his debut during the summer, earns a spot as a starting pitcher and the White Sox ride their four-man-strong starting rotation — Sale, Samardzija, Jose Quintana and Rodon — to postseason glory.

Worst case scenario

The White Sox finish fourth in the AL Central as the 2015 season devolves into a dumpster fire.

Chicago checks out for the season in late July or early August as the bullpen implodes once again, Abreu suffers a horrendous sophomore slump and Samardzija is shipped out of the South Side before the trade deadline for prospects.